Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Conservation of coastal dunes in Spain is threatened by poorly designed infrastructure

Science Daily: Although the dune ecosystem is unusual, fragile and is protected by the "habitats" directive of the network Natura 2000, its conservation is very vulnerable to the proliferation of car parks, nearby buildings and inadequate boardwalks installed for protection or beach access. Researchers at the University of Seville (UoS) have published a study in the Journal of Coastal Research of human impact on the natural dunes at two sites in the Gulf of Cádiz, specifically in the protected areas of La Flecha Litoral in El Rompido and Enebrales in Punta Umbria, both in Huelva province. The experts show that both dune systems are exposed to human pressure.

"This work tried to identify which factors influence the vulnerability of the dunes. On the one hand, these ecosystems are exposed to natural perturbations like storms, but also, we observe that human impact may have negative consequences even in zones which are difficult to access," explains Sara Muñoz Vallés, lead author of the study and researcher at the UoS.

…According to their assessment, some of the most affected areas, both in La Flecha and in Enebrales, owe this instability to human impact. "Specifically, car parks constructed within the dune area, poorly designed accesses and the laxity of control of tourists, as well as boardwalks installed at ground level which permit access to the beach over the first (seaward) line of dunes, but which interfere with their natural dynamics, have contributed to this vulnerability," indicates the researcher.

This fact explains that zones of La Flecha where there are no boardwalks and tourists have free access to the dune system show the same degree of fragility and of poor conservation as zones in Enebrales, where there are six boardwalks intended to protect the dunes from trampling.

…"Aside from their beauty and biodiversity, the dynamics of dune formation are unusual and highly plastic, and they play a very important role in the protection of the interior. Studies of the passage of Hurricane Katrina have explained how well-conserved mangrove swamps mitigated the destruction and erosion caused by Katrina, while those in a poor state of conservation did not have that capacity. The case of dunes is similar as far as pounding by the sea is concerned," concludes the expert.

One of the beaches studied, El Rompido, at low tide. Shot by Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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